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Arts academy founder presented with leadership award

Kasey Viani, of Viani’s Performing Arts Academy, applies her talents and career to teach the art of dancing, singing, and theater in Southern California, and is based in El Cajon.

For more than four decades.

The actor, singer, dancer, choreographer, director, producer, and teacher received the Ovation Award’s Creative Leader Award, given for leadership and commitment to arts education. This evolved from an opportunity when she accepted a challenging offer from Los Coches Middle School, part of the Cajon Valley Union Elementary School District.

Under the San Diego County Office of Education, the 2023 Arts Empower Ovation Awards recognize and honor individuals, organizations that are working to ensure “every student in San Diego County is engaged in a personally relevant, equitable, standards-based arts education.”

Award recipients are honored in person and via social media, recognizing arts education and community partners in Region 2 throughout the month of April on social media and held in person on April 25 at Grossmont College.

Region 2 includes: Alpine Union, Cajon Valley, Dehesa, Grossmont Union High, Jamul-Dulzura Union, Julian Union, Julian Union High, Lakeside Union, La Mesa-Spring Valley, Lemon Grove, Mountain Empire Union, Ramona Unified, Santee, and Spencer Valley school districts.

“I travel across San Diego quite a bit,” she said. “Just to help out with the building process. I was in Chula Vista last year, and this year I am in East County. Our feat we had to overcome last year, we were in production with our show, two months in. Two weeks before we opened, we were notified by the District on how to figure out to do it outside.”

Viani said they built a stage outside, and the show went on.

Viani is the performing arts teacher at Los Coches, teaching all performing arts. Choir, dance, theater, rebuilding a performing arts program that was shut down due to the pandemic.

“They presented the idea to me, and I said I would love to build the performing arts program for you,” she said. “Coming in, I have a sound booth, light booth, a stage, a band room, a choir room/dance room. I walked into the rooms, and it was a dump room because they had all been abandoned.”

Viani got the area ready for teaching. Then the District came to her and offered her a show at The Magnolia in El Cajon.

“I am like ‘Why?’ and they said, ‘because you are here and by putting a production in The Magnolia, it really brings light to the performing arts and rebuilding process,’” she said, adding that she could not have prayed for better support, calling it a “gift from heaven.”

Viani selected “Frozen,” mainly because no one has attempted to do this production regionally. A former Disney performer at Disneyland, Viani said this was a full circle for her.

“I have to do this show,” she said. “There are ties and roots here for me. I love the music and I would love to do this for the kids.”

In production, Viani realized how much more space needed to be filled to perform on The Magnolia stage with 1.500 seats. She had a theater class of 28 kids. So, she decided to pull in all her classes into the production, adding dancers, and singers. She said this was much better with a cast of 60. Approached by the district again, they asked her to go to the district’s feeder elementary schools and teach to show students there what they were doing at the middle school level and would want to be part of the program.

“I drove to schools every day and taught them a little bit of ‘Frozen,’ she said. “Because they also told me that they could all be in the show. It sounded like an impossible task because I do not see these kids all day long. I had to be strategic to put them in the show. So, I put them in the beginning, the middle, and the end in big numbers. We had a cast of 260, and that will fill the seats.”

Viani said costuming was also a challenge to overcome. She had strategically planned last fall to have a special show in the spring, and it cost money, something they did not have. She had spent startup money for the program for curricular necessities.

She had no inventory to draw from.

“Performing arts, people fall in love with it because it is special,” she said, adding that fundraising for costumes was essential “to make it special, so they fall in love with it and help grow the program.”

Viani wrote 10 letters to the Friends of East County Arts for grants.

“We needed a new light board, new microphones, dance shoes, makeup, costumes, playwrights, all this stuff is about $1,000 to $2,000 a pop,” she said.

She was awarded three grants, raising $2,500. With two school shows, they raised another $4,000 from donation tickets. Viani raised around $7,600 from parents in an online fundraiser. Viani reached out to local theater houses including The Old Globe asking for costumes they did not need.

“The Olde Globe donated costumes. They donated stage pieces. They sent their tech director, their sound director, and director to our campus to look at our equipment and help us out, and they are still helping us. Junior Theater donated $15,000 of old costumes they did not want. I cannot tell you how thrilled, and how much was touching my heart, by the support coming out of the woodwork.

“But the biggest compliment was seeing my kids coming on the stage of The Magnolia, and they just shined. The kids were exuding joy and having a wonderful time. And that show was beautiful because of them. It turned out beautiful and professional, but it was not cheap. I am now fundraising again for next year. This is a program these kids deserve to have.”

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